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Dealing with the dry on smaller blocks

Managing ruminant livestock on a smaller piece of land can be more challenging than on a larger block when it gets dry and pasture quality and quantity starts to decline.

Larger farms are typically better equipped to take delivery of bulk loads of high fibre feeds (such as palm kernel), which can be used to fill a feed deficit. They may also have had more opportunity to conserve surplus forage during a pasture surplus earlier in the season and therefore may have plenty of silage on hand.

It is difficult to manage feed supply for ruminants such as cattle, sheep, goats and deer, or pseudo-ruminants such as alpacas and llamas when there is a large feed deficit to fill. This is due to the presence of a rumen in these animals (where the feed they eat is fermented by microorganisms), meaning it is important to ensure that they always have some forage available. Care also needs to be taken when offering feeds that are high in starch or other readily fermentable carbohydrates, such as grain. Formulated feeds, designed for ruminant animals on smaller blocks, can be a useful tool to help manage relatively short spells of low pasture availability and can be useful in helping to stretch out available pasture when a dry spell is forecast. These feeds should always be introduced to animals gradually if they are new to the diet and they should never make up all of the diet at any one time. Make sure you check the recommended feeding rates on product labels and stick to them. It is important to think ahead and if you are concerned that a dry spell is likely, it is better to start introducing a supplement early rather than to wait until there is very little pasture left, as this gives the animals very little time to adapt to the new feed.

Feeds such as NRM MultiFeed Nuts and Reliance Alpaca Pellets are well suited to this use and are an ideal complement to lower energy dry, stalky, summer pasture. When supplemented correctly they can help to increase the energy intake of animals, as well as ensuring they get all the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. NRM MultiFeed Nuts with zinc are also a great way of ensuring adequate intake of zinc during the facial eczema season.

When in a more serious pasture deficit situation, where the available grass plus the formulated feed still isn’t enough to meet animal requirements, it is a good idea to introduce another source of fibre into the diet. This is where it becomes difficult for a smaller farmer who is unable to take bulk loads of high fibre straights (such as palm kernel), or where the farmer doesn’t have silage on hand or this is unavailable for purchase. In these situations, an option worth considering is the use of high fibre feed options designed for the equine industry. Many of these feeds are developed and promoted as a fibre replacer for horses but they can also help to replace some forage in the diet of ruminant animals. A great example is Maxisoy (available from Farmlands stores), which contains soya hulls, a high fibre, low starch feed that is widely fed to dairy cows in New Zealand. Maxisoy offers flexibility in that it can be offered ad lib, with animals having access to and able to consume the feed throughout the day, with no risk of acidosis.

When fed in conjunction with formulated feeds such as NRM MultiFeed Nuts (which have a higher fermentable carbohydrate component and which are typically offered in a more controlled manner, e.g. fed in small amounts once or twice a day to prevent excessive intake), Maxisoy helps to increase the amount of feed that can be supplemented per animal per day when pasture availability is low. As pasture availability improves, Maxisoy can be reduced or taken out of the diet and just the grain based feed fed as a supplement to pasture.

A good rule of thumb if you need to use Maxisoy during a dry period is to feed as much grain based feed as recommend on the feed bag and then feed the same amount again as Maxisoy. For example, NRM MultiFeed Nuts are recommended to be fed to sheep at up to 150 grams per head per day, so you can feed 150 grams of Maxisoy either mixed in with the NRM MultiFeed Nuts or on its own, with the NRM MultiFeed Nuts offered separately. If the feed can be offered twice a day rather than once a day, this is a better option (e.g. half the NRM MultiFeed Nuts and half the Maxisoy in the morning, then the same again in the evening). It’s a good idea to also offer plenty of hay and/or silage to animals if you are able to source some.

If you are going to use a forage replacer (other than Maxisoy) that has been designed for horses to feed to ruminants on your property, always check with your Nutrition Specialist to make sure that the product is suitable for this use.

Other tips for dealing with a summer dry

  • Ensure animals always have access to plenty of clean, fresh water. Keeping water as cool as possible is important.
  • Ensure there is enough shade for animals and that any constructed shelters do not limit airflow, as a breeze can be useful for keeping animals cool.
  • Reduce animal activity (e.g. moving stock) during the hottest part of the day. Your animals will thank you for it.
  • Try to encourage feeding during the cooler parts of the day. Offer feed in the early morning or late afternoon and ensure that forage is always available.
  • Be cautious when buying in baleage and silage. There may be a lot of high priced yet poor quality conserved forage for sale. Silage that hasn’t been fermented properly will not taste as good for stock and intakes will be lower than a good quality silage. In a worst case scenario, a very poorly fermented silage might be rejected by stock altogether.
  • Watch out for drought related animal issues such as tooth wear from grazing short pasture and also nitrate poisoning when stock are grazing crops that come away well after a dry period.
  • Continue to feed supplements to stock for some time once the dry has broken. Half the grass available is lost after rain because it is dead and decays very quickly, so you might not have as much green feed as you think.
  • Think about having a pasture restoration plan in place if paddocks are very burnt off from a more severe dry period.

For further information, contact your local Nutrition Specialist.

Article supplied by Stacey Cosnett, Nutritionist.